Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reflection: Underwhelment (Again)

I've got some big time fears in some areas, but not others. Different forms of fear can be dissociated from each other in striking ways: social from nonsocial anxiety, and phobic or narrow fears from vigilant or paranoid ones. It's only when friends realize this that they can consider that I'm not overwhelmed but seriously underwhelmed by most social situations. There's some evidence of underwhelment, I think: I lived five years in a dorm and seven years in housing co-ops. I frequently slept on the couch in the common area of a sixteen bedroom housing co-op --by day, amidst frequent chaos and confusion. Since girlhood, too, I've been drawn to people with very intense energies, including those who are majorly hyperactive and those who are clinically bipolar.

I know friends have tended to look to my childhood seek answers for some oddities. Ah but what if, in some ways, I am what I am not because of my childhood, but despite it. When I was fifteen, my foster mother commented that I wasn't an introvert but rather an extrovert trying to get out. Both my parents said that in our earliest years (quite a bit before the photo you see here!) it was my brother, two years my senior, who was the painfully shy one. I was the friendlier child, the bolder child, the more outgoing child. (I don't think I was truly outgoing, actually, but enough so that I stood out in contrast to my brother.) My father said in later years that he wished he'd known to be concerned about me -- that he hadn't because I acted like a child who could take on the world.

I have to take care how I explain the next thing, so it doesn't come across as arrogant: People vary in how they process stimuli -- in how much neural activity takes in response to particular things. What's overstimulating to one person may be felt as a mere blip by another. So I think some things just trigger a milder neural response in me than they do in a lot of people. It seems to me that the majority of social situations (including those that have the potential to be sexual) don't have that much at stake -- it just seems to me they hold neither aversion nor the promise of real reward. (I know that I stand in contrast to a lot of people when I express that.)

Don't we all try to make sense of one another's behaviors using our own as a guide? People who are overwhelmed by, say, a party or a date are not going to realize I have a sense of underwhelment -- of too little being at stake. There have been so many times when people have been sure they saw overwhelment in me, when something very other was going on inside. For instance, I don't get overwhelmed by the thought of changing for another person; in most situations, I'm too underwhelmed -- I have too little a sense of anything really being at stake -- to experience strong motivation. And that's actually very painful for me. I don't thrive in situations of too little 'whelment'.